The author flicks through the pages of her life to share the things that inspire her.

Helen Carr is an historian, writer, TV and podcast producer who specialises in medieval history. Having cut her teeth in TV and radio, her experience producing history documentaries for BBC4, BBC2, Sky Arts, Discovery, CNN and History Hit TV would later prove the perfect grounding for the second phase of her career as an author of historical non-fiction.

For Helen, history is in the blood. Her great grandfather was E.H Carr, historian, diplomat and author of the seminal ‘What Is History’ (1961). This year, on its 60th anniversary, Helen and her co-author, Susannah Lipscomb, have given that classic an update, in the form of ‘What Is History Now’, which looks at what stories we tell, how they are told, and which stories should be retold in the 21st-century. It comes hot on the heels of her success with The Red Prince, also published earlier this year, which examines the complex life and legacy of John of Gaunt. As Dan Snow eulogises, ‘Helen Carr is one of the most exciting and talented young historians out there. She has a passion for medieval history which is infectious and is always energetic and engaging, whether on the printed page or the screen.’



Here she tells us how fresh bread and regional crémant would feature heavily on her ideal holi-day; the London landmark that is so significant to her that she got engaged in its shadow; and how, in an alternative universe, she would decamp to a turret.


Favourite place in all the world?




I have three. The Languedoc region of France; it is peppered with medieval fortifications and where I went to write some of my chapters. The Scottish Highlands where my mother lives and where I love to swim in the lochs— it’s freezing but it is thrilling. I also drove around the Highlands to recce a history documentary I was producing. It was the most wonderful road trip (despite pouring with rain the whole time) as I got to visit some fantas-tic historical sites like Culloden and Clava Cairns. And finally Dartmoor in the early autumn. A beautiful, healing place where you can see the sea from the Tor.


Dream holiday?




Castle hunting in the Languedoc, drinking regional crémant, buying fresh bread and crois-sants from the patisserie in the morning and a little writing before an al fresco candlelit dinner.


Most coveted item right now?


I would like the perfect outdoorsy coat for winter as I spend lots of time outside walking my dogs. On a far less practical level, I just bought my most long-coveted item: a pair of knee high boots by Isabel Marant. Unnecessary, far too much money, but beautiful.


Proudest professional moment to date?


My first book The Red Prince about John of Gaunt making the Sunday Times Best Books of 2021 list. I couldn’t believe it and went into physical shock.


Your dream future project?


I’m fortunate enough to be working on it: my next book, This England.


Who has been your most inspiring mentor, professionally or personally?


Suzannah Lipscomb, my co-editor for What is History, Now? And Dan Jones who first en-couraged me to write.


Where would you live if you could live anywhere?




I love where I live in Cambridge, but one of the college apartments looking over the river would be nice. In a turret.


What book is on your nightstand/ kindle right now (and why)?


It is a book I have recently finished and possibly one of the best books I think I have ever read: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. It made me both laugh and cry. I am also reading a proof copy of Matrix by Lauren Groff which was given to me by my editor. It is set in the 12th-century and I’m enjoying it very much.


Best film you’ve seen recently?





I rarely sit through films unless I’m at the cinema but, predictably, I love period dramas. Even more predictably those of the medieval period. My favourite film is A Knight’s Tale and I’m looking forward to The Last Duel by Ridley Scott.


Best binge-watched TV show?


Sex and the City. Because it never gets old. Or Game of Thrones because it is extraordinary.


Top podcast of the moment?


I am currently on maternity leave and keeping the cogs ticking by listening to Talking Politics: History of Ideas with David Runciman. I also love the back catalogue of Desert Island Discs.


Your hero?


Christine de Pizan. Because she was a single mother and writer in the 14th-century who challenged all gender and social bias by writing about war and feminism. She supported her family by writing and did well from it.


Favourite dish to cook?




Gnocchi or pasta with fresh truffle, from scratch, with lots of nice wine for the process.


Favourite café/ restaurant (and why)?




Café de Flore in Paris for its chocolat chaud. Trullo in Islington for its Cacio e Pepe pasta. Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch is fun for an al fresco lunch.


Most useful thing on your desk?


I have a photograph of myself as a child which reminds me to be kind to myself.
Most useful (or not so useful) thing under my desk is my dog, Otter, who has been my writ-ing companion for four years.


Which five people, dead or alive, would you find most interesting to be stuck in a lift with?


Far too many to ever get this right but here are a few: E.H Carr, my great-grandfather and author of What is History?; Christine de Pizan; Eustace d’Auberchicourt, bad boy of the Hundred Years War and leader of the Free Companies; Caitlin Moran; Geoffrey Chaucer.


Favourite building?




The Tower of London. When first moved to London in my early twenties I used to visit regu-larly and spend hours wandering around thinking about everything that has happened inside and outside of its walls. I love it so much my husband proposed late at night outside Trai-tor’s Gate.


Favourite Instagrammer or tweeter?




I love Petalon Flowers aka Florence Kennedy for her beautiful Cornwellian bouquets and beautiful dog. And Amy Jeffs aka Historia Prints for her art. As for Twitter, Caitlin Moran, Emily Brand and Pandora Sykes keep me laughing.


Your screensaver?


Christine de Pizan sat at her writing desk from an illumination in the Book of the City of La-dies.


What would be your epitaph?


Mother of Doggos.


By Nancy Alsop
December 2021

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